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Three tips that made me a better teacher


While preparing to teach my first lecture as a new faculty member, I told myself: “You have many research presentations under your belt; you’ll nail this!” It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way off base. A few minutes in, the students looked tired, distracted, and in no mood to listen—a stark contrast to my research talk audiences, which seemed attentive at least. At one point, I noticed a few students giggling. “Do I look or talk funny?” I wondered. When I saw that the giggling students were on Facebook, I was relieved. But later I realized that, too, was a sign that I had failed to command their attention.

In grad school, I had served as a teaching assistant, helping guide undergraduate students during hands-on lab sessions. But I was never responsible for teaching a class on my own, and I never had any formal training.

When I became a faculty member, I had to take on a daunting course load, teaching 50 lectures and as many labs per semester. It felt as though I’d been dropped in the deep end of a pool with no swimming lessons. Class by class, my doubts about my teaching abilities mounted, along with my fears that students were not absorbing the key details in my lectures.

I started to reflect on my own experiences as a student and tried to recall the things that helped me learn, as well as the things that didn’t. The researcher in me also began to search for scientific evidence to guide me. I sought help from experts in pedagogy, as well as colleagues who had more teaching experience than I did. They told me about tools that they used during lectures and resources on campus for new teachers.

Within 1 year, there was a marked change in my teaching. I began to use new skills and tools that kept my students engaged. One student wrote in a teaching evaluation that my approach to teaching “made the information exciting” and “challenged students to pay attention.” Teaching gradually became a source of satisfaction rather than anxiety.

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